VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican is watering down a ground-breaking overture to gays — but only if they speak English.
After a draft report by bishops debating family issues came under criticism from many conservative English-speaking bishops, the Vatican released a new English translation on Thursday.
A section initially entitled "Welcoming homosexuals" is now "Providing for homosexual persons," and the tone of the text is significantly colder.
The initial English version — released Monday along with the original — accurately reflected the Italian version in both letter and spirit, and contained a remarkable tone of acceptance to gays. The other translations were similarly faithful to the Italian and didn't deviate in tone.
Conservatives were outraged, and the English was changed.
The first English version asked if the church was capable of "welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities." The new version asks if the church is "capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing ... them ... a place of fellowship in our communities."
The first version said homosexual unions can often constitute a "precious support in the life of the partners." The new one says gay unions often constitute "valuable support in the life of these persons."
Other changes were made in other sections of the text, but without significantly altering the meaning or tone.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said English-speaking bishops had requested the changes on the grounds that the first translation was hasty and error-ridden.
When Lombardi was shown how significantly the meaning had changed, he pledged to investigate and didn't rule out a third version.
Lombardi stressed that the original Italian remains the official text, and noted that the draft is being revised top-to-bottom for a final report which will go to a vote among bishops on Saturday.
If two-thirds approve it, the report will form the basis of discussions in dioceses around the world before another meeting of bishops next year, and ultimately a teaching document by Pope Francis.
Based on the complaints to the original text and the number of amendments proposed Thursday, the drafting committee appointed by the pope has its work cut out for it if it wants to get a two-thirds majority.
The Vatican released summaries of the amendments from the 10 working groups that have been negotiating all week. They are near-unanimous in insisting that church doctrine on family life be more fully asserted and explained — that marriage is between a man and woman, open to children — and that faithful Catholic families should be held up as models and encouraged rather than focus on family problems and "irregular" unions.
The English-speaking working groups were among the most critical. The one headed by Cardinal Wilfred Fox Napier of South Africa complained about the translation of the draft report and used the new "providing for" homosexuals language of the revised English translation, suggesting that he or someone in his group might have requested the change.
On Thursday, Francis added Napier, as well as an Australian bishop, to the drafting committee that will compose the final document. It was widely noticed that Francis' initial appointees were largely progressives whom he named after conservatives were elected to head the working groups proposing the amendments.
African bishops, who are among the most conservative on family issues, were not included in his initial picks.
Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield